Issue #38 / August 2011 Staff
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Sunit Singh MANAGING EDITOR Nathan L. Smith EDITORS Spencer A. Leonard Pam C. Nogales Laurie Rojas Laura Schmidt Bret Schneider Ben Shepard COPY EDITORS Zebulon York Dingley Jamie Keesling PROOF EDITORS Jeremy Cohan Edward Remus DESIGNER Benjamin Koditschek WEB EDITOR Gabriel Gaster
Statement of purpose
Taking stock of the universe of positions and goals that constitutes leftist politics today, we are left with the disquieting suspicion that a deep commonality underlies the apparent variety: What exists today is built upon the desiccated remains of what was once possible. In order to make sense of the present, we ﬁnd it necessary to disentangle the vast accumulation of positions on the Left and to evaluate their saliency for the possible reconstitution of emancipatory politics in the present. Doing this implies a reconsideration of what is meant by the Left. Our task begins from what we see as the general disenchantment with the present state of progressive politics. We feel that this disenchantment cannot be cast off by sheer will, by simply “carrying on the ﬁght,” but must be addressed and itself made an object of critique. Thus we begin with what immediately confronts us. The Platypus Review is motivated by its sense that the Left is disoriented. We seek to be a forum among a variety of tendencies and approaches on the Left—not out of a concern with inclusion for its own sake, but rather to provoke disagreement and to open shared goals as sites of contestation. In this way, the recriminations and accusations arising from political disputes of the past may be harnessed to the project of clarifying the object of leftist critique. The Platypus Review hopes to create and sustain a space for interrogating and clarifying positions and orientations currently represented on the Left, a space in which questions may be raised and discussions pursued that would not otherwise take place. As long as submissions exhibit a genuine commitment to this project, all kinds of content will be considered for publication.
Issue #38 | August 2011
On “The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg”
Emancipation in the heart of darkness
An interview with Juliet Mitchell
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES Articles will typically range in length from 750–2,500 words, but longer pieces will also be considered. Please send article submissions and inquiries about this project to: email@example.com. All submissions should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style. THE PLATYPUS REVIEW IS FUNDED BY: The University of Chicago Student Government Loyola University of Chicago School of the Art Institute of Chicago Student Government New School University The Platypus Afﬁliated Society
Rosa Luxemburg wrote. Platypus members Chris Cutrone. and not merely advocates. to a moment of revolutionary potential occupied much earlier by the authors of The Communist Manifesto. academics.
Unsparing self-criticism is not merely an essential for its existence but the working class’s supreme duty. Greg Gabrellas. the splotches on a Jackson Pollock painting. in her ﬁnal political work she understood herself and her comrades on the Left to be returning. the international proletariat must and will gather up the golden treasure that. leaders of the Left in the Second International (1889-1914)—what they called ‘revolutionary social democracy’—in the period preceding the crisis of war. reaching beyond it? How did Lenin. . written under the pseudonym Junius while imprisoned for her opposition to world war in 1914. since it corresponded to the rise of mass democratic parties and trade unions—historically new institutions. But the historical optimism implicit in activism for its own sake. and the proletariat is their ordained guardian! And while bourgeois society. Rosa Luxemburg sought to crystallize this trauma. cruel. reading groups and conferences. importantly. the project of political Marxism was not simply a matter of ideology or a political program that could be right or wrong. and Trotsky contribute to the potential advancement and transformation of Marxism. Hungary and Italy is concentrated above all in the historical ﬁgures Vladimir Lenin. Georg Lukács summed up this experience as follows: ‘[T]he crisis [of capital] remains permanent. But this view is insufﬁcient. in a moment of weakness and confusion in the chaos
Photograph from the Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz by Herbert Hoffmann of Rosa Luxemburg in Stuttgart in 1907. and Ian Morrison organized a panel on “The Marxism of Second International Radicalism: Lenin. Unable to contain the contradiction between the immense capacity to generate wealth and the intensifying fragmentation and attenuation of individual freedom. Luxemburg purposefully cast “the last forty-ﬁve year period [1870-1915] in the development of the modern labor movement…in doubt. Henceforth. “the course of the historical dialectic has led us back to the point at which Marx and Engels stood in 1848 when they ﬁrst unfurled the banner of international socialism. under changed conditions.Issue #38 / August 2011
On “The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg”
At the Marxist Literary Group’s Institute on Culture and Society 2011. Luxemburg. then it is to Luxemburg’s lasting credit that she passed judgment on the failure of the Left before barbarism itself had the last word. . . in The Crisis of German Social Democracy.’ ‘against the grain’ of their time. rendering it available to theoretical diagnosis and intervention. Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. intellectuals and students came closest to achieving a real utopia. critics. DESPITE THE CONTRARY ASSERTIONS of conservatives.” she politically challenged and tried to demolish the regressive political and ideological tendencies within her own movement. but with the advantage that seventy additional years of capitalist development lie behind us. The task of Marxist theory was the criticism of socialist politics as a means of developing Marxism itself. Luxemburg. For example. But the “crisis of German Social Democracy” revealed the extent to which the Left had become its own worst enemy. the working class organized itself on an increasingly collectivist basis that threatened to compromise the emancipatory impulse behind Marx’s politics. but ones that seemed to many socialists to ensure their political victory. as she put it in the same pamphlet. and thereby free will. While industrial development spurred the development of wealth-generating machines on an ever-expanding scale.”4 Luxemburg argued that the Left had lived for many years in the dark shadow cast by the failure of revolution in 1848. “Marxist”
"Rosa Luxemburg" continues on page 4
. . It stands in the way of future developments within Marxism. At ﬁrst this inward orientation might seem misplaced. manifest by the slogan “the struggle continues. repeats the cycle until after inﬁnite sufferings and terrible detours the school of history completes the education of the proletariat and confers upon it the leadership of mankind. and how it can be practically changed—essentially a normative political philosophy with a radical disposition. shamed and dishonored by the bloody orgy. into play in the social actions of mankind. in and through the crisis of Marxism in the early 20th century? How can we return to these ﬁgures productively. to learn the lessons of their history?” What follows is an edited version of Greg Gabrellas’s opening remarks. “the ﬁrst popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness. journals. That a disciplined leader of the revolutionary movement could criticize the foundation of the modern labor movement itself illustrates the keen historical integrity of Luxemburg’s Marxism. How were the Second International radicals. but her phrase illuminates objective social sensibilities that have since vanished. Socialism was. inhumanity and reiﬁcation. Marxists have forgotten that self-critical politics is the form in which progressive developments within Marxist theory take place. Of course this uncertainty and lack of clarity are themselves the symptoms of the crisis in bourgeois society. with its resignation in the face of national chauvinism and a looming world war. Fortiﬁed by her theoretical will
to “self-criticism. 2011 at the Institute for the Humanities. Marxism today is not only practically ineffectual. University of Illinois at Chicago. to the activists. queer theory and critical race studies as a philosophy of liberation. revolution.” condemns itself to impotence. countering imperialist war and punitive sanctions against the poor and working class. and Marxists play a deﬁnitive role in all forms of contemporary activism. If the intervening history has rendered this historical optimism suspect. we must struggle to discern why and how this nearly forgotten generation of workers. so the radicals of the Second International understood socialism to be exclusively possible through the self-criticism and advancement of the actuallyexisting-history of the movement.’ Nonetheless. counterrevolution and civil war in World War I and its aftermath. Marxism too risks becoming unintelligible amid the chatter of contemporary theory. But just as modern painting recovers and transforms the aesthetic conventions of previous generations. For Luxemburg. and political intellectuals. these Marxists understood their politics as being ‘on the basis of capitalism’ itself (Lenin). Socialism was seen by the radical masses of workers and intellectuals alike as the fulﬁllment of humanity’s highest social and cultural achievements. caught in the mythological repeat of the failure of revolution. and with it the possibility for new social freedoms.3 She saw these as symptoms of the bourgeois social order in decline. She observed in 1918. remorseless. Understandably. after the 20th century—as Walter Benjamin said in his 1940 ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History. and would have been unthinkable to the radicals of the Second International. perhaps even shocking. By declaring Social Democracy a “stinking corpse” in 1915. at the founding congress of the German Communist Party (KPD). it goes back to its starting-point. There exist Marxist political organizations. In 1920. today. it has allowed to sink to the ground. This judgment might seem surprising. academics and intellectuals who consider themselves Marxists or at least sympathizers. They take Marxism to mean a theory of what is wrong in the world. Moreover.”2 Luxemburg’s readers must have found this judgment shocking. We stand where they stood. might confuse ﬁrst-time visitors to any museum of modern art. and Trotsky.1
The “most valuable treasures of mankind” to which Luxemburg refers may be necessarily cryptic. of the world war. As the product of capitalism the proletariat must necessarily be subject to the modes of existence of its creator. . Marxism takes its seat next to feminism. Activist projects continue to arise. Her criticism was a necessary political attempt at achieving the historical consciousness required for the realization of socialism. of their own political movement? What is the legacy of these ﬁgures today. held on June 20–24. On our ship we have the most valuable treasures of mankind. With its historical link severed. Marxism is different from radical political theory only insofar as it is an active recognition of possibility amidst social disintegration and calamity. or the overlapping ﬁgures of a de Kooning. Marxism as a body of thought is widely known and disseminated among activists. bourgeois society became repetitive. and with it the possibility of socialism. which participated in mass institutions but only as a means to furthering human freedom by reconstructing society on a wholly new basis. Marxism was itself a historical achievement rendered possible by the organized politics of the working class. rushes headlong toward its doom.” The original description of the event reads: "The legacy of revolution 1917-19 in Russia. .” In the wake of this movement’s crisis and ultimate collapse in the twentieth century. Germany. This posed both a problem and an opportunity for the revolutionary left. For example.
not in the narrow sense of methodology. so to speak. or the two steps up and one step down. More importantly. our quest led us directly to Althusser’s work. The north of England. Simone De Beauvoir. Lately. the worker’s movement ended—I am not playing them down—the black movement also ended. there was a women’s movement by the time she wrote. “women hold up half the sky. Back then I was planning to write a book. Post-Marxist rhetoric. I wasn’t prescient in WLR in seeing that education was going to expand as much as it did. But then what measures escape reformism? There may be changes to the things that a family does that will lead to its diversification in such a way that is more revolutionary than what existed thus far under socialism or capitalism. in an open letter to the editors of New Left Review in 1960. this is not going to affect the wretched of the earth. In turn the idea of the longest revolution as I wrote WLR made me think about what was absent in earlier analyses but also within Marxist thought. This relates to your question about C. in the last instance. what matters about the women’s movement is the Left. I think of Marx much as I might think of Darwin or Freud in some senses. it redirects it in a different direction. SS: WLR raises the issue of revolutionary strategy: the role of limited ameliorative reforms versus proposing maximalist demands. You were critical of these other tendencies. getting back to utopia. in the Althusserian sense. but we haven’t yet the kind of society that adequately attends to our needs. now called feminists.” “Women: the Longest Revolution” came in the mid-60s. in 1959. I suppose we were dominated by the demand for equal work. This is not so and is poor history. women’s liberation arose out of it. of course. The return to Freud was “overdetermined”—there were multiple directions for my getting to Freud. Now. as Adorno says. I could use this insight to organize the structures that apply to women. What Althusser offered me through his re-definition of the nature and place of ideology is the overwhelming and now obvious point that sexual difference is lived in the head. the longest revolution. that the unconscious was close to what Althusser had to say about ideology. on women in England. in
SS: The program from the memorial service for Fred Halliday on the bookshelf reminds me of an anecdote
. I think that when the conditions of existence. in other words. although there are some women who will climb the ladder. Has the naturalization of feminism in the present-day obscured the issue of strategy? JM: I do still believe in crude old things like “to each according to his needs. without a doubt. But while reading and admiring C. Perry [Anderson] and I married in 1962 and lived in London. It was a historical sociological treatment of the subject. but now there are certain. Instead she took the classical Marx/ Engels line that the condition of women depends on the future of labor in the world. And in Freud that is not socioeconomic. that the call for complete equality between the sexes remains completely within the framework of capital rather than in opposition to it. in addition to the magazine. ironically. Mills forewarned. there was the utopianism of the end of class antagonism. if only to disagree. I had a bit of a break before I returned to “women. SS: This raises a number of issues about the relationship of Althusser to Marx and that of Lacan to Freud. about the theory of psychoanalysis. but I like this story about Tariq and Fred. but really the stress on ideology had more to do with the search for a new theoretical direction that was linked to contemporary French thought. its never simply a matter of progress under capitalism. I think where I was going with psychoanalysis was more towards kinship. D. if the Old Left was wedded to a Victorian labor metaphysic. A revolutionary situation is a discreet situation that transforms what could be thought within capitalism about sexuality. Bebel. that going the whole way towards equality is impossible under capitalism. the uptick of interest in psychoanalysis. I found Althusser extremely useful. towards what is still fundamental in kinship structures in families. it’s not that it is attached to the Left. we hoped to share with them. He was planning to do a couple of events with Platypus on an upcoming visit to the U. 2010. The fight against women’s oppression as women is. I was also a student in Oxford. despite all the shake-ups of postmodernity or whatever. retrospectively. who don’t enjoy the equalities that those in liberal capitalist societies should. I think when we took over from Stuart Hall the distinction of what separated us from the preceding group was the conviction of the importance of theory over or out of empiricism. who wrote under the name André Gorz. I disagree with feminists who dismiss Freud.” However. but what were we to do with that? This might come as a shock. even after other friends on the New Left had stopped identifying themselves as such. For us. That is where I would like to be. but in their way of approaching the question. these will remain changes within those specific fields. there was a voluntarist injunction to abolish the family and then the opposite.”3 Furthermore: “The gray timelessness of Trotskyism is only to be matched by the eternal chameleonism of Western Maoism. and then in the women’s movement. what Althusser offered me intellectually.” in the sense that when I use Althusser. can we really call the old democracies democratic when it is money not the vote that rules? Any struggle is always one step up the well and two steps down. that in the 1960s I thought or felt that a measure of equality might be attained within the dominant socioeconomic class. getting back on track. Does the Althusserian concept of ideology adequately address the ways in which we are forced to deal with our own alienated freedom in capital through reified forms of appearance and consciousness? Did the limitations of the Althusserian-Lacanian framework in WLR motivate the reconsideration of Freud? JM: You might change sexuality or reproduction or sexualization. Lenin. there are therefore different effects for the wretched of the earth than there are for the rich. we had a cultural project in London. Wright Mills and ideology. With Gisele Halimi and Djamila Boupacha this was a background to the left women’s movement that was shortly to emerge. and the socialization of children. For example. then about women. other feminists. which was the family. feminist consciousness is “the equivalent of national chauvinism among Third World nations or economism among working-class organizations. you are in a different historical epoch. then what is the solution or next stage? This is why WLR examines the structures within the family. And. to such injunctions? And to what extent was the project of socialism implicit in “Women: The Longest Revolution” (hereafter referred to as WLR) Five decades on. Where first wave demands were dominated by the vote. I should confess there is an intractable dilemma at the heart of WLR. I think we need to rethink our humanity in order to revalidate the universal—neo-universalism— which was interestingly debunked by postmodernism. nowadays with the new versions of empiricism. as in the Chinese revolutionary saying. Shulamith Firestone foresaw the “reproduction revolution” in some ways. when Alexandra Kollontai wrote on free sexuality. but I never actually stopped thinking of myself as a Marxist. what effects does it have
“Juliet Mitchell” continues on page 4
Photograph by Jerry Bauer of Juliet Mitchell on the cover of Women’s Estate (1971). growing up as I had in an anarchist environment. Ideology. but that was in the final analysis determined by production. revolutions create the possibility of change.2 How sensitive were later members of the editorial board of the New Left Review. where does that project presently stand? What happened to “socialism”? Juliet Mitchell: I came into direct contact with the New Left Review earlier than the mid-60s. first of all. and conditions. achieve a new degree of equality. albeit with an understandable sense of nervousness. I have had to be pretty “utopian. each aspect of which I treated as superstructural. Wright Mills’s sense of utopianism? Well. All the egalitarian bits of capitalism must be pressed for if only to find out two things: one. I think we in Platypus often return to that story as a salient metaphor for the fragmentation of the New Left and the opacity of the present-day. I keep encountering this belief that where other radicalism was over after 1968. it may seem as though I am also picking up on C. but then again she was writing in the 1970s. I had met R. There I was puzzling over the fact that women are marginal but that. because you were coming. It may be that you can’t wither away the family. with Dorothy and Edward Thompson in nearby Halifax. I also think it is important that I wasn’t prescient about the massive entry of women into the workforce. Of course at a time when the Left is not very active. I was quite impressed by the shift that it represents from the book that never was. which never saw the light of day. The bourgeois husband needs a bourgeois wife. I think these are the concerns that come out of “the soiled earth of capitalist society. the New Left threatened to forsake the “utopianism” of the Left in its search for a new revolutionary subject. it was never a matter of either/or. where there is still radical work going on. exhorted the still inchoate “New Left” to reclaim an ideological space for socialism over the chorus of liberal commentators proclaiming “the end of ideology”—the idea that there are no more antagonistic contradictions within capitalist society. also entails that it is the longest revolution. and Badiou? JM: I suppose this is getting me back to when I wrote WLR. We were not surprised that there is no pay parity.” People do need different things and that is beyond equality in a sense. as Marx himself says. so that is where I took it in WLR. which was itself weakest on the historical agencies of structural change or the so-called subjective factor. Although Professor Mitchell’s rehabilitation of Freud is well chronicled. that the conception of utopianism melded into the women’s movement. although I worked in Leeds. SS: Does the contemporary emphasis on performativity or gendering obscure the humanist motivations that led radical anti-feminists to psychoanalysis? JM: It certainly changes it. Now. Here our head hit a ceiling. Women can now vote. on the other hand. that going beyond these forms of equality is essential anyway. I think that when you use them. revolutions change the object. Rancière. I think it is important to take up arguments with those who share the same space politically. that were alas never realized. can occur even when it doesn’t elsewhere. the economy is determinate. then about Marxism as dialectical and historical materialism and. was that revolutionary change in any one of the superstructural or ideological state apparatuses can attain a certain autonomy. It is. although I suppose there is a context in which it could help if someone were completely fragmented. before training and practicing as a psychoanalyst. the other to the Left. at that stage saw any politics of feminism as a trap. so what we need to ask is. I am now unsure that it will even be attained there. you ventured to wonder aloud. as Judith Butler always tells me. What it means is that there will always be one factor that is the key factor. which was outside it. and the “women’s question” might mean that Lenin was possibly right that such concerns are the noxious fruits growing out of the soiled earth of capitalist society. after all. or it might be. The questions of the longest revolution were: What is the hope? Where is the utopianism? For Engels. With sexuality things are a little more complicated. in Lacan maybe it is. but “equally it could presage new forms of oppression. Women’s liberationists. partly through other work I was involved in. that wasn’t only a bourgeois demand. the attempt in “Women: The Longest Revolution” (1966)1 to rescue the core content of the Marxist tradition—its emphasis on emancipation— remains unexplored. I think that remains true. Together with Gérard Horst. as Mills identified. On overdetermination as Althusser takes it from Freud: Overdetermination in Freud is not an antihumanist concept. producing a very interesting contradiction that cannot be chalked up to the fact that Stalin was a foul man.” that on its own it “will not naturally develop into socialism nor should it. How do we view ourselves in the world? This is what took me to Freud. Can one accommodate the denial of the subject as an illusion of the ego in the Lacanian “return” to Freud with the Freudian emphasis on psychoanalysis as an ego-psychology therapy intended to strengthen the self-awareness and freedom of the individual subject as an ego? JM: No.” How does one think that? The only way I could think it was to break it up into these structures: production. applying the thesis of repressive desublimation. which. I think there are always social classes. nor was it in 1968. The student movement ended. Feminism continued gaining strength thereafter. so the degree to which I was prescient I don’t know whether the measure of sexual liberation that effective contraception offered us middle-class “first-worlders” has created more oppression of women sexually worldwide—I don’t think so. SS: A central claim of WLR. it would have been much better to follow the earlier tide in which sexual freedoms were seen as a condition of the revolution. but nevertheless wanted to be engaged with particularly French New Left struggles. in an era otherwise marked by acute depoliticiziation. For me it wasn’t a shift from Lacan to Freud as such. and two. SS: Given your own trajectory. then. or where it does so it may do so negatively. The conditions that allow for and motivate the reproduction of “patriarchy” as well as other kinds of oppression. For me. but I don’t see the whole concept of strengthening the ego as a way forward for psychoanalysis. whether. it is the Left. interpellates individuals as subjects. we are plateauing. Giant theorists such as these impinge on us with their method. where we were the originating group of the New Left. nor is it a matter of this ghastly government over another. one comes up against a certain limit. conservative dimensions of feminism will flourish and feminism will be misused. increasingly disproportionate. welcome me back. Was that the task in WLR? Does the same challenge remain today for the Left? How did the ways in which the New Left understood and dealt with this methodological challenge affect the situation for a future Left? JM: I reread WLR. but in Freud it is neither/nor. Wright Mills’s assertion of the importance of ideology. and not a glass ceiling. I thought. the relationship between women and men. A pithy passage from Women’s Estate reads. We were in what Thompson later criticized as Sartrean “treetopism” We met with the equipe of Les Temps Modernes in the early 60s. JM: His death is indeed tragic.” One was also self-critical by then. The women’s movement was what happened to 1968—it went on. sexuality. there are passages gesturing toward a dialectical conception of capitalism—as both repressive as well as potentially emancipatory—while. with her brilliant depiction and analysis of the oppression of women. without specifying who would head in which direction. a concrete one. We were driving to meet up with friends and colleagues who ran Lelio Basso’s new journal in Rome when the manuscript was stolen with everything else from our car. Apart from what I quote—Engels. whereas before it was taken for granted. not the mid-sixties. The Divided Self had came out shortly before. Marxism was not out there as “Marxism. like the class distinction between capitalist and worker. both of us probably think we are going towards the Left. I would say that the intransigence of the oppression of women. at least I thought then. and Betty Friedan—there was no category “woman” until feminism resuscitated it in the second half of the sixties.” as an underpinning to my “optimism of the will. but the question is why? If. These are perfectly legitimate demands that are not confined by the conditions in which they come into existence.” but again my answer would be rather like my answer about equality. which I haven’t done for years. at a talk at Birkbeck in 1999. What follows is an edited version of the interview. sectors such as illegal migrants. The extreme of reformism versus voluntarism is not where we are at the moment. Feminism from that moment has headed off to the hills to rethink what needs to be done politically. On the one hand. Wright Mills. if one looks at what happened to sexuality or reproduction in the Soviet Union. What I liked about Althusser was the definition of ideology as at times overdetermining. What everybody seems to forget is that socialism was foundational for the women’s movement and those of us who were and still are on the Left understood where we had to expand it intellectually. The Algerian War was. but there was always a humanist in me. it was exactly this shift that opened up the importance of ideology. So was I aware that in my use of “ideology” in “Women: The Longest Revolution” I was also picking up on C. Some of the observations of Anna Freud are remarkable. that this doesn’t invalidate these concerns. I will remain in the hills until the streets. I always wanted both perspectives. We were urgent for an end to the British isolationism with which the anti-theoretical stance was associated. is: What happened to the women’s movement? JM: What happened to it?…Well. Then in 1962 some of us went to the celebrations for Ben Bella in Algiers. “yes and no” would be my answer. and presumably also in relation to the Trotskyists. “ideology” read “theory. It does reflect that overall moment in the entire shift of the New Left from historical research into theory. were active as such in creating ‘68. There was also the issue of our relationship to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. what do you make of the reflorescence of a strain of Althusserian-Lacanian “Marxism” today in the form of Balibar. We didn’t want to be imitative. pay. For C. so I was involved with anti-psychiatry in the same span of time as I was involved with the NLR. what happened to ideology? I think. Wright Mills.” More recently. like putting messages in a bottle. As Althusser himself acknowledged. What I think it has done is definitely exposed the differences more. but it should it should only be a stage on the way to something else. Society is still trying to think that we all ought to be equal. Raymond Williams considered the women’s movement the most important one of the last century.”4 From there the text went on to say that what was needed was to deepen the Marxist method even if it meant rejecting some of the statements made by Marx and Marxists. implies that the relationship between men and women. and I think that I wasn’t prescient about changes in production (I later addressed these issues elsewhere) or reproduction. in the 1960s. that I haven’t understood performativity properly.” Does our historical remove from the 1960s allow us to judge one way or another? JM: I think. De Beauvoir. but that isn’t the same as the question about overdetermination. the whole relationship to China had to be re-examined rather as earlier Marxists had to take stock of their relationship to Stalin. as against the Maoists.S.Issue #38 / August 2011
Emancipation in the heart of darkness: An interview with Juliet Mitchell
On November 23. it took me first to the unconscious rather than sexuality. I never had any time for ego-psychology. but if production remains unchanged. but it is not identical with capitalism. nor had we failed to realize that. or can’t wither away the state. reproduction. What we hadn’t foreseen sufficiently was the return of the servant class if this wife was also to work. This claim struck me as valid for the situation of women. and you are posing different questions).
SS: I suppose my question. Wright Mills. Maybe there is something there to be thought about as new demands that are beyond socialism as well as beyond capitalism. The timing of the gap and the reluctance to re-do what I had done led to a considerable change in the way I looked at the issue. but I was also slightly unmoved by it. I have never been a member of a party or a church or sect. caught and stuck within its own contradictions. Sunit Singh conducted an interview with psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell at Jesus College in Cambridge. the idea of “overdetermination” was indebted to the anti-humanistic reinterpretation of Freud by Lacan. as I do in WLR. It treats as salutary the remark Lenin made to Clara Zetkin about developing a strategy commensurate with a socio-theoretical analysis of capitalism within the party to adequately address the “women’s question. Marx was against the voluntarism of the abolition of the family.
that is recounted in an interview with Danny Postel. it’s not that you stick within the terms that they set (after all. Laing in 1961. Though we are not in a revolutionary situation. But now is not the moment for that. SS: Your answer hints at the ways in which the New Left saw itself as new. Sunit Singh: The sociologist C. Yet. The Old Left thought of capitalism as en route to communism. the Althusserian notion of “overdetermation” that structures the argument emphasizes the role of contingency as the motor of historical change. also form the essential conditions of possibility for the demands for equality.5 He dreamt of appearing with Tariq Ali before Allah who says that one will veer to the Right. sexuality. So it may be the ideology of capitalism has been hoisted on its own petard. That is the background to WLR. but I worked actively within the New Left. You presciently noted in WLR. the call by utopian socialists to abolish the family would be tantamount to generalizing the prostitution of women. This is where history comes in. On the withering away of the state. terribly important. then there are stages. itself derives from the contradictions of capitalism. We know much more about the inequalities. SS: For me. That is. Yet. There are liberal aspects of capitalism and for heaven’s sake let’s have them. you are in a different social context. that doesn’t mean it is not around the corner. was a centre for the older New Left. after Perry Anderson took over from Stuart Hall in 1962. It is not the first political movement to suffer these collapses!
other words. but we might both be going Right. was expressive of the disillusionment with the Old Left. I broke down the family.” first about class antagonism. “no. as Engels had identified. that the wave of sexual liberalization unleashed in the 1960s could lead to more freedom for women.
’ Kant warned that universal bourgeois society would be the mere midpoint in humanity’s achievement of freedom. that reification cannot be overcome in thought alone. I shall be. to which everything must submit. and thus the ultimate object. scientistic Marxism.” says Lukács (92). and tyrannous indifference to the particular—is what Lukács calls reification. Lukács saw in the crisis of Marxism precipitated by World War I. Lukács shows this reason—a more powerful and mythical dominating force than nature ever was—at odds with itself. And while this task is more opaque in Lukács’s moment. as Lenin put it. even from childish malice and destructiveness. then. Lukács saw the attempt to meet the tasks of the present. He peoples his essay with characters from the great social scientists of his day. of the practical philosophy of freedom. I change myself. is undergoing its own deep split.2
Georg Lukács sought to revive a Marx that. unconsciously. If this politics is unsuccessful. is the direct inheritor of a bourgeois practical philosophy of freedom. perhaps. says Lukács. Passages like the following from Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution. We return to Kant. Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin. of the impossibility of accomplishing a fundamental social change through such activity and arrives at the understanding that the conquest of power is unavoidable.”6 We once thought we could go to reason with our deep questions. childish vanity. even as they conscientiously recognized that these could not be reconciled in a bourgeois world. Marxism needed to learn to grow up. The stakes are high:
Until this last step…is taken. Lukács’s Marxism is trying to recognize that Marxism poses the question to bourgeois society and to modernity as a whole whether or not it can achieve this kind of transformative self-consciousness. But bourgeois society has been unable to fulfill its promise. Self-knowledge allows me. the crisis and possibility of the early 20th century is far from what we face. of fake subjectivity. let me emphasize. or thinking would become little more than an apologia for domination. They express that bourgeois society has not yet given up on itself. fury. says Kant. and Hegel would not cede the attempt to combine reason. and offer sympathy and solidarity with their struggles: struggles that are part of the natural laws of history. in extremely telescoped form. for the task of realising socialism…we say that as a result of its trade union and parliamentary struggles. but limits in any given interest-pursued action by the proletariat • the concomitant value of self-criticism and selftransformation • the centrality of self-transformative political practice • an organization—or party—dedicated (as Lukács quotes Marx in the Communist Manifesto) to clarifying the international and historical significance of any given action This self-conscious capitalist politics elucidated. we have realized something about ourselves. “the worker can only become conscious of his existence in society when he becomes aware of himself as a commodity. Weber puts it like so in his “Science as a Vocation. Capitalism is a brute. for Lukács. to formulate the politics that could realize bourgeois society’s—and Marxism’s—potential self-overcoming. like Weber. Here self-consciousness could advance the new tasks posed. and is thrown about by economic crises over which she has not a whit of control. and Jeremy Cohan organized a panel on “Marxism and the Bourgeois Revolution.” to give up on the radical implications of the Enlightenment and to call for “law and order. Platypus members Spencer Leonard. if we have not. III Lukács insists that revolutionary Marxism is able to concretely pose the problem of emancipation. Lukács gives an account of “Idealist” philosophy struggling to express the problems and potentials of freedom in its moment—that philosophy’s ambition. on the one side a free. is overcome from within. connected with varieties of reformism. a dangerous looking back. she sells herself on the market. the proletariat becomes convinced. And. rather than by a deus ex machina from without. By knowing myself. seeking its “cut of the pie. None of this. and Rousseau was not far wrong in preferring the state of savages. Disciplinary fragmentation is the rule. Bourgeois philosophy stuck with its ambition: “…the idea that the object…can be known by us for the reason that. The crisis of modern society is the crisis of the bourgeois revolution—which at a new. because the proletariat is a commodity. II We might read the entirety of the second part of the “Reification” essay.” The original description of the event reads: “The 'bourgeois revolutions’ from the 16th through the 19th centuries—extending into the 20th—conformed humanity to modern city life. As proletarians seek to really become “bourgeois subjects. All we can do is look to the marginal. an incomplete formal reason. the birth of the freedom implicit in our social relations. Beneath. be always one step behind capital. pastoral. But why return to Lukács? Especially if I insist that he was attempting to make sense of his practical moment. Sure. was for Lukács the attempt to realize the promises and possibilities of bourgeois society by consistently pressing forward the demand for subjectivity contained in the commodity itself: the proletariat. As “critical” as we are. is enslaved by the machine. we might illuminate and make meaningful the sound. this philosophy kept finding itself left with. soon to become only the miserable precursor to an even more miserable sequel. This Marx understood the problem of his—and our— epoch as the unfinished bourgeois revolution.” their demands for subjectivity begin to strain against the limits of what is possible in bourgeois society. like the brutes. For Lukács’s moment is not ours. As Lukács puts it. inert. Schelling. a dangerous shuddering and stopping. to “become myself. a “vulgar” Marxism that loses the capacity to affect the course of events. we cannot simply take up where he left off. historically. Self-consciousness changes us. Marxism is not the resistance to capitalism or reification or bourgeois subjectivity—it is their selfconscious realization and self-overcoming.”7 But through epistemology. but the need to ‘complete’ the bourgeois revolution. The bourgeoisie’s tragedy is that it must. As Lukács put it in his “What is Orthodox Marxism?”: “Materialist dialectic is a revolutionary dialectic. We are used to thinking of the natural constituency of the Left as those who are “marginal” to society. ending traditional. This would be emancipation—humanity’s “maturity” as Kant puts it. whose gains would be meaningful only from the standpoint of redemption—what Lukács called the standpoint of the proletariat. He sought to demonstrate that Marxism was. only possible as a practical self-clarification of the ongoing crisis of society triggered by the unfinished bourgeois revolution. This is a problem. is the historical development and consciousness of the proletariat. to understand historically their being as an expression of the crisis of capital—and thus be faced with the gravity of the task ahead for achieving freedom.” “Natural science gives us an answer to the question of what we wish to do to master life technically. then. morals. But why? Firstly. Nor is self-consciousness merely in the brain.” This was not Marxism. freedom. then it would be one more form of unfreedom. we can only imagine freedom swooping in from beyond and bringing its liberation into our miserable lives. The proletariat’s incipient demand that they become the subjects promised by bourgeois society—free. whose further transformations and developments necessitated its (self-)overcoming. What is it? Everything. the French. Human consciousness would be an integral part of “objective” development. a “form of objectivity. A neurotic symptom appears to be a horrible hostile entity to be conquered.”3 On the other side of the rope. This means that perhaps Lukács’s “identical subjectobject” seems so “messianic” to us not because we have surpassed Lukács and his silly metaphysical speculations. this irrational reason.” It cannot be overcome except through consciousness. and through expression to become midwife to. after all. again and again. is the crisis of Marxism. and idiocy thus far characteristic of world-history. By completing the seeds of freedom and development implicit in the present. Lukács helps us see that we haven’t grown up. Classical philosophy’s honest focus on its limits was one of the things Lukács admired most about it.e. on the model of his cultural studies epigones. are characteristic of the “high” moment of bourgeois politics. like Kant. insists on: • the leading role of the proletariat as the most typical element and crisis-point of capitalism • an emphasis on the subjective development of the proletariat in any struggles it undergoes • a fight against the reduction of Marxism into sectional interest. whose task now fell to the politics of 'proletarian’ socialism. reason that ends in mythology. Reason is not an abstract form to be imposed on a hostile reality—it is realizing something implicit in an object. We do not revisit our childhoods to relive them—only to recognize how we have yet to integrate them by overcoming them. I The problem of epistemology. Instead. what the practical philosophy of freedom would have to look like in order to overcome the present and to realize the endangered. to overcome bourgeois society 'on the basis of capitalism’ itself? How did subsequent Marxism lose sight of Marx on this. This is a very different Lukács than the one who has gained some academic respectability of late. a dangerous on-the-way. paying attention to our “standpoint” of critique to get past objective and subjective dichotomies that plague debate in the social sciences.”4 Lukács is not the mere “analyst” of reification. So any “recovery” of Lukács must operate on two levels: one. “the proletariat is nothing but the contradictions of history become conscious” (71). suffering. I am. foreign entity. but under changed conditions. beside the wisdom that appears here and there among individuals. no history of man conceived according to a plan seems to be possible…One cannot suppress a certain indignation when one sees men’s actions on the great world-stage and finds. religious custom in favor of social relations of the exchange of labor. the abstract calculative individuals—to describe a society whose “reason” is a soulless restrictive rationalization shaping humanity in its narrow image. Happy. faced a crisis in which it would either have to transform itself or would become one more apologia for the status quo. 2011 at the Institute for the Humanities. whose struggles to appropriate society for its purposes demand that the object—the product of the history of social labour—be infused with subjective purpose. and how might Marx’s perspective on the crisis of the bourgeois revolution in the 19th century still resonate today?” What follows is an edited version of Jeremy’s Cohan’s opening remarks. but it cannot be overcome through consciousness alone. but we are still somehow “us”. provides a useful metaphor. The prospects do not look bright. The target of most of History and Class Consciousness is. Or. There will be power. or nothing at all. We will return to this point: Marxism. the more reasonable each science becomes. and two. They criticized both inevitabilism and the reduction of the proletariat as just another sectional interest.8
At the Marxist Literary Group’s Institute on Culture and Society 2011. the Haitian. Marxism. The only advantage the worker might have is that her reification is often experienced as a form of powerlessness and therefore might be mediated politically into a transformative practice. we have to ditch the politics—the crypto-messianic or proto-Stalinist (whichever you prefer) “proletariat as the identical subject-object of history. but already presaged in the “revisionist debate. Nor does academia help us out of this crisis of modern reason. Second. In the radicals of Second International Marxism. this Marxism was responsible for the tightening and spread of state control over everyday life. this time offering the battle cry of the Enlightenment: “Ours is the genuine age of criticism. you won’t get the self-overcoming of capitalist society at its highest point and the realization of the potential freedom implicit in modernity.” or practical self-consciousness. As Nietzsche’s Zarathustra puts it: “Man is a rope tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss. Our politics take something like the form of Niezsche’s eternal return. because it is real.’ the commoner Third Estate ‘worked’: ‘What has the Third Estate been? Nothing. that philosophical lineage attempted to probe and overcome its difficulties through developing a certain form of knowledge: the “identical subject-object. This Marxism had signed on to national war efforts in WWI. the politics of freedom.” thus failing to justify the leap the bourgeois revolutions had initiated. from beginning to end. IV Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness might be summed up in Freud’s description of the goal of psychoanalysis: Wo Es war. morals. because they were being addressed politically by the revolutionary Marxism of his day. for Lukács. because the rise of the proletariat meant. Instead resistance becomes the cry accompanying a resigned acceptance to the unfreedom of the whole. human nature must suffer the cruelest hardships under the guise of external well-being. nor yet like rational citizens of the world according to some agreed-on plan. wherein the more we seem to know. self-determining subject. reason.” as if socialism were fated from time immemorial by inexorable laws. Reason simply reproduces a subject denuded of its capacity to shape the world and itself. where “knowing” and “practical transformation” are mutually constitutive—where knowledge is immanent. the dynamo of modernity. the decline of bourgeois radicalism. This is not easy. becomes the farcical repetition of Kant’s achievement: it fails to radicalize the Kant– Hegel–Marx lineage. and to the degree in which. and so diminished? Psychoanalysis again. realizing the reason. would have to be a conscious human act. strove to bring the crisis-character of the present to self-consciousness. says Weber. dominating us and our capacities. and in play in all forms in society: from the factory machine to the bureaucratic state. reconciled at the expense of unfreedom. immanent in present realities. Philosophy seeks to express. by recognizing that. we now know better. Neo-Kantian. rather than abstract. importantly.”5 Not just ideas. fragile past. and the pained. and unfreedom. from jurisprudence to journalism. expressed by the workers’ call for 'social democracy?’ How did this express the attempt.” Capital’s tragedy is that it is always also the proletariat.” as demonstrating. and the limits it reached. But Marxism has inherited not only the tasks.” Or “[the proletariat’s] consciousness is the self-consciousness of the commodity” (168). the majorrity of humanity abandoned agriculture in favor of urban life—however in 'slum cities. rationality in human history depends on the future. the less it has to say about the nature of our society as a whole. Capitalist totality really does proceed fragmentarily. held on June 20–24. seeking its “cut of the pie” • the importance of emphasizing not victories. its own crisis. that is. to a status quo with ever dwindling possibilities for human freedom. especially Luxemburg and Lenin. The “orthodox” Marx Lukács found in the politics of the radicals of the Second International. A sector of the academic left thinks we ought to take up many of the analytical tools Lukács has given us to become more “reflexive” critics of capitalism. in contradistinction to the clerical First Estate who 'prayed’ and the aristocratic Second Estate who ‘fought. fragmentation. to raise the moment of world-historical danger and possibility of roughly 1917-1923 to self-consciousness. And capitalist society’s crisis. If one could “stumble into socialism. For Lukács. only that it might. freedom. but social institutions and forms of life too. Lukács asserts. it needed to learn to stop thinking that it had already grown up. it has a basis in our form of life. Lukács develops the daring claim of revolutionary Marxism that capitalism must overcome itself. in our social institutions and in ourselves. must justify themselves by appealing to reason. aesthetics (the subjects of Kant’s three critiques) and even Hegel’s invocation of history. and equal—led the bourgeoisie to become “vulgar. not just instinctively. “The Antinomies of Bourgeois Thought. it has been created by ourselves. in order to achieve emancipation. This was exemplified in their focus on the “nonautomatic” character of the transition to socialism. He might. rather than through claims of tradition or dogma. The essence of Lenin and Luxemburg’s Marxist politics was that socialism. taking up in transmuted form the earlier crisis of thought and action. by asking seriously whether we have
. But Lukács is not setting up philosophy for a fall. not through the intervention of those outside. Abbé Sieyès wrote in 1789 that. what relevance does he have in a moment whose practical possibilities are so different. the suffering. It leaves quite aside…whether we should and do wish to master life technically and whether it ultimately makes sense to do so. Lukács refuses to sadly shrug his shoulders at the coming barbarism. It is precisely when he stopped being an academic that he could move forward with his philosophical problems.3
The Platypus Review
object. the same self I was. After the last bourgeois revolutions in Europe of 1848 failed. the whoring subservience of bourgeois thought and socialism both. Politics is the attempt to realize this potential. in turn. but by the action of those at its very center. more deadly level. IN HIS “IDEA FOR A UNIVERSAL HISTORY FROM A COSMOPOLITAN POINT OF VIEW. Max Weber and Georg Simmel—the bureaucrats. And we are right—for we are surely
“Lukács’s abyss” continues on page 4
For Kant. all-too reasonable. stood at the edge of an historical abyss. and human development it promises.
Since men in their endeavors behave. which is the halfway mark in the development of mankind. and human selfdevelopment in the world. on the whole. everything in the large woven together from folly. Classical idealist philosophy shows that freedom is possible only through a transformative self-consciousness. because its politics seeks to practically achieve the self-consciousness of capitalist society in its crisis. at all. trade-union and parliamentary activity are important for the socialist movement because such activity prepares the proletariat. University of Illinois at Chicago. by necessity. so long. unable to give birth to a star.” But Lukács can help us become keener.” Marxism is the attempt to realize the form of practical self-knowledge which offers the only hope of achieving freedom. But bourgeois society also promises that each human being might become a self-determining subject. Schiller. creative. Pamela Nogales.1
overcome the crisis that Lukács attempted to formulate theoretically. but it is rather a development of self to be understood and practically overcome. for Lukács. Marxism has been on the whole no better—it has been only a more advanced form of this domination-reconstituting reason. an historical open question that would be decided only by self-conscious self-action. as the last stage to which the human race must climb is not attained. that is to say. This betrayal of emancipation by reason—this formalization. on the other side an inert and irrational
Luxemburg sought. but because we find ourselves no longer able to imagine this kind of freedom. relegating humans into mere things. modern toady. where it was.’ In the late 20th century. were key for Lukács:
So that if we do not consider momentarily the immediate amelioration of the workers’ condition – an objective common to our party program as well as to revisionism – the difference between the two outlooks is…[a]ccording to the present conception of the party [Luxemburg’s position]. it could not be deduced from social being nor a fervent wish from beyond. But the attempt to recover the political Lukács may be just as futile. on the other the brute facts and “laws” of the world. have also turned to Nietzsche’s “last man”—the shrunken. but am not. can itself make demands for its emancipation because the typical commodity is the proletariat. and development. freedom. This struggle with the proletariat to achieve its own possibility was for Lukács the other side of the struggle of bourgeois society to achieve its potential. Reification is a Gegenstandlichkeitsform. We no longer believe that we can overcome capitalism for the better. indeed self-contradictory character of ‘free wage labor. I want to resist this assimilation of Lukács into the barbarism of academic reason. This politics. But even more importantly. there will certainly be plenty of movements and resistance. can be solved by interdisciplinary programs. that arises in our textbooks. The commodity. soll Ich werden. creates the subjective factor of the socialist transformation. Bourgeois philosophy. Fichte. as Nietzsche puts it. on the one side. But unless capital. The philosophical Enlightenment and the political revolutions that fought under its banner—the American. This attempt to realize a freedom not “imposed upon” but immanent in social reality is passed on to Marxism. and those of 1848—looked forward to the realization of reason. is the self-consciousness of a contradictory age. But the proletariat’s social position does not at all guarantee that it will radically push forward the demands of emancipation. an object which is actually us. Marx wrote of the ‘constitution of capital' the ambivalent. the completion of the human freedom whose possibility the “bourgeois epoch” had begun. in its most acute form. more specifically. to struggle with the proletariat in its halting attempts to achieve bourgeois subjectivity in order to constantly push against the limits of how much subjectivity capitalism could grant the workers— all so that the proletariat might someday demand the end of their being an object tout court.’ How does the bourgeois revolution appear from a Marxian point of view? How did what Marx called the ‘proletarianization’ of society circa 1848 signal not only the crisis and supersession.” a re-enactment at a new level of the crisis of bourgeois philosophy. To be really self-conscious we need to change our whole way of being. This definitively separates Marxism from many other varieties of anti-modern discontent (of which postmodernism is the most recent variety). Much like what Freud would call regression—the use of outdated psychic tools to cope with new problems and changed conditions—Marxism threatened to become “stuck. We all-too reasonable moderns seem consigned to contemplate a ready-made world. Marxism itself.” Immanuel Kant sets forth to tell the story of humanity as if it were one of progress. Furthermore political education and action around these limits would be designed to call workers to learning about how they came to be what they are—i. there will be resistance. he calls us to risk achieving the Enlightenment’s promise. The inverse is also true: the proletariat is the quintessential “abstract” bourgeois subject. Recent attempts to rescue the “academic” Lukács are an exercise in contradiction. Kant. but also the problems and crises. The revolutionary Marxism of Luxemburg and Lenin. Marxism. and to talk about ideology as “socially necessary illusion” rather than mere will o’ the wisp. “[The proletariat’s] fate is typical of the society as a whole.” “its own age comprehended in thought. and human development. more critical academics. A dangerous across. aesthetics “Reification” essay is reason at odds with itself.
Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. and it is also cataclysmic. Rosa Luxemburg. We can try to escape from this nightmare. This achievement marks the turning point in history. ed. Their use of psychoanalysis allowed them to ask questions about the role the authoritarian personality would play in collusion with or the in the self-replication of fascism. and hoped to push the natural tendency forward. rather. A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past. The Frankfurt School took to psychoanalysis. Immanuel Kant.” in which her politics were inextricable from her most inspired theoretical contributions. insofar as it occludes historical consciousness and ensnares us in the immediacy of our present. but develops in a form suitable to revolutionary consciousness. trans. itself bound up in that very development. 1978). “The Crisis of German Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet)”. She herself insisted. “the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Was Lukács a fool for wagering on the possibility of freedom by becoming. are in themselves the content of socialism. <http://cms. we survey the ruins of a historical accomplishment unprecedented in the history of humanity.edu/salmagundi/backissues/150-151/halliday. “the self-conscious. rather it was what can one use psychoanalysis for to answer the question about the oppression of women. This political tendency found an unlikely supporter in Eduard Bernstein. does not remain unscathed by the irrational reality of capitalist society with its endless means-ends reversals. heralding the dawn of a new age while rediscovering and transforming the value of the old. Rainer Maria Rilke. What are the challenges that confront the Left of the future in preserving the indeterminacy of the concept of socialism? JM: On the first half of the question about the absence of play and the relationship of the death drive to capitalism: the death drive is a huge question. Hopefully. it was a kind of immanent knowledge.cfm>. perhaps it is an important part of the constellation we need. I offer two quotes. gradually rises above its own divisions of a class through political agitation for social reform: “It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers. 6. Luxemburg criticized Bernstein’s one-sided approach to historical reality. Lukács thought you couldn’t. I never believed one could use psychoanalysis to be on the Left. the trade unions had begun to increase wages. Both tendencies are pathological. In her pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution?. Hence it “sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat. every demonstration. If we capture a glimpse of the Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg. CODA Peer into a high-powered telescope. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press. By abandoning Marx’s own approach of viewing society as a whole. and you can witness the auratic glow of an archaic cosmic explosion—the origins—racing away from us at light speed. 3. 2. leads either to mania or depression. 336. Ibid. 9. precipitating a revolution within psychoanalysis as well as within Marxism. trans. and move on. crystallized in the failure of the Marxist project in general. nearly invisible to the naked eye. Bourgeois concepts start to take on radical implications in the context of a revolution. I think it is the longest revolution. but from the perspective of the immediate interests of the working class. He thought from within the clinic as well as from elsewhere. 2004). even though we use psychoanalysis for different objects. or anything like that. who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.” in The Rosa Luxemburg Reader. Rosa Luxemburg (London: Oxford University Press. 130. or a class question. Either the immanent overcoming of capitalism and its irrational rationality. They described it as. and after the labor process is thoroughly transformed by machinery. In a nonrepressive socialist order. To end. trans. when in fact it is applicable only to the aggression that attends capitalist society. in other words. I don’t agree with Marcuse. what kind of emancipatory possibility might there be in the narcissistic character—what Adorno referred to as authoritarianism—of subjects of late capitalism? JM: Quite correctly Reich had asked the question of the authoritarian personality that was then taken up by the Frankfurt School. in pursuing emancipation in the heart of darkness we also need to let light into the heart of darkness. vindicated Luxemburg’s bitter struggle to overcome the emerging ideology which opposed the revolutionary change sought by the left wing of the Second International. the primary one is “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy. for her. Luxemburg and her allies. can be thrown against the workers than the remark ‘Theoretical controversies are only for intellectuals. we might instead allow the past to ask questions of the present. ed.” in Kant on History. Lukács.”8 If social disintegration continued well after the failed revolutions of 1848. including Lenin in the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party.” in History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Women’s Estate (New York: Pantheon Books. SS: The New Left icon Herbert Marcuse sought to outline what a socialist society would look like in Eros and Civilization. Adorno held that it was a necessary symptom of capitalist society. Nonetheless. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin Books. a longstanding member of German Social Democracy and one of its foremost Marxist theorists. it is not clear to me that Lukács is worth much of anything at all. Gender. Hereafter referred to parenthetically with the appropriate page number(s). The Left in its various political manifestations is not exempt: the accumulating catastrophe is everything we say. but with the emergence of the factory system and large-scale industry. the fate of the revolution (and with it the fate of mankind) will depend on the ideological maturity of the proletariat. a Marxist? Lukács would insist on Luxemburg’s call—socialism or barbarism. continued from page 1
politics was defined by its attempt to overcome the dead hand of this history. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Christopher Lasch once wrote that radicals after the New Left could only relate to the past through either blind rejection or complete identification with exemplary predecessors.” I am still trying to work this out in a way.
1. “Our Program and the Political Situation. and universal democracy could gradually be brought into being by legislative reforms. 2. The development of credit and cartels had stabilized capitalist crises. indicated by acquiescence to inter-imperial war. but a struggle within Marxism itself. for which Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto. He then relied on theories of psychoanalysis to try to find some sort of answer—interestingly it turned out to be about the role of aesthetics. Freud characterized the limits of “individual” subjectivity with which the revolutionaries had to contend in order to make their revolution. WLR concludes with a critique of such attempts to prefiguratively sketch out what an emancipated society might look like. The trauma includes the unnecessary suffering and death wrought by the miscarried socialist revolutions of the twentieth century. Rosa Luxemburg. 1963). sans eyes. I never wanted to psychoanalyze society. Marxist theorists sought to understand the new possibilities opened up by parliamentary Social Democracy. We are not at the verge of a new beginning. like credit. Although some of her arguments are sharp criticisms of Bernstein’s interpretations of facts. Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Mary-Alice Waters (New York: Pathfinder Press. in which a fraught relationship to one’s childhood. 2. Luxemburg’s central critiques strike at the heart of the issue: how the conditions of immediate struggle in bourgeois society point beyond themselves to a socialist future. in which sailors’ mutinies resulted in the formation of Councils of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies led by reluctant Socialists who had just recently inherited state power. voiced by the trade unions. this project can be taken up again only if we can somehow bring forgotten historical tendencies to consciousness—to render the faint memory of revolutionary socialism intelligible through self-criticism. depressive. posing starkly the danger of trying to measure the concrete character of an emancipated future. in turn. Ibid. The context of the Bolshevik Revolution changed the significance of what Bebel had written on women for Lenin. and only the conscious will of the proletariat will be able to save mankind from the impending catastrophe.” New Left Review. which can be looked at psychoanalytically. “Our Program. and transformed into play. But she called on Marxists to recognize that the new forms of organization were potentially straitjackets on bourgeois society in decline and not the dawning of socialism. to ask for its help. It finds itself in a “constant battle. class struggle is not the default of bourgeois society. which logically led him to political fatalism and unwarranted historical optimism. 5.”10 By raising broader theoretical problems that inevitably influenced the nature of capitalist society and the revolutionary process itself. The Left needs to start to think from Planet of Slums. which is a different location from that of the industrial working class of Marx or even the consumer capitalist class of late capitalism of Althusser or of Marcuse. continued from page 3
in creating sexual difference. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. was radical. 151-152 (SpringSummer 2006). Ibid. represents another important attempt to appropriate descriptive Freudian categories into a critical Marxist theory. I am uninterested in saying that society is narcissistic. Looking backwards is now the only way to move forwards. It seemed that history was on the side of socialism.” For Marxist radicals. C. When we talk about interpellation from Althusser. And yet that smudge of light we see in our telescopes. But we cannot forget what we do not fully remember. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it. as Gramsci says. Her work clearly underscores the political significance of theoretical matters. Immanuel Kant. Social Reform or Revolution. These difficulties can be taken to psychoanalysis usefully. putting it in a more open-ended manner. 4. Anderson (New York: Monthly Review Press.” in The Rosa Luxemburg Reader. SS: Apart from the French tradition. means that the satisfaction from work can only ever be an ersatz form of libidinal release. 9. While our own capacity to pose theoretical problems in the present is confounded. and his politics. ed. but there are new spaces opening up for the Left. Friedrich Nietzsche. trans. the lack of a Golden Age of youth. independent movement of the immense majority. eds. 481. 482. but why it should be limited to capitalism. Since the foundation of the Second International. But to do so we must see in ourselves—in every protest. even ideology itself.Issue #38 / August 2011 Rosa Luxemburg. He also asserts that Freud had hypostatized the existence of the death drive. Anderson (New York: Monthly Review Press.. the development of a Marxist politics worthy of the name. An early instance of this was the protest of German trade union leaders against the International’s decision to call a workers’ holiday on May Day in 1890. therefore. there are no easily drawn conclusions to be made. and of Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism in particular.org/archive/luxemburg/1915/junius/>. political policy. internal to the socialist movement itself.
The second from Rilke in the first of his Duino Elegies:
Yes—the springtimes needed you.” In other words. A similarly spectral shockwave marks the horizon of modern political experience. Rosa Luxemburg. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge. as disjecta membra. “Social Reform or Revolution. do. The Renaissance painters and philosophers looked to the ruins of Greek and Roman civilization to nourish their burgeoning self-consciousness and cultural achievements. of pushing up and defending bourgeois society. Against Marcuse. but the tail end of an epoch-making project that once sought to change the world. Norton and Company. Everybody seems to be muddling up gender and sexual difference to me. 7. 3. obsolete. and trans.5 In this work she was continuing the project of Marx and Engels. Stephen Mitchell (NY: Random House. what can we do to stop war. 2004). and the feminists in Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Why aren’t we even where we were in the 60s anymore? I already told you we hit a ceiling. Max Weber.” such as labor legislation. “No coarser insult. or perhaps both. 126. 10. 8. and every factory takeover—the obstacle. not the analytical tools we can dig up from the grave of his practical philosophy of freedom.P. The result was not simply a struggle of Marxists against trade-union leaders.skidmore. especially the work of Adorno. which was more often than not informed by Marxian theory. took their “orthodoxy” to demand constant attention to the historical whole of humanity. but from where Lukács was standing you couldn’t. considered Freud an “irrationalist”—as a “symptom. but there was an important liberal aspect within psychoanalysis. which relates to my work on siblings. 144. Lasch likens this to a personality disorder in psychoanalytic theory. we can try to discard Marxism. registers the internalization of the defeat or is somehow apolitical? JM: From where Lukács stood. The bourgeoisie itself. a “labor of Sisyphus”— necessary as defensive measures. available online at <www. “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat. feminism and psychoanalysis looked terribly pessimistic. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge. through the feminist embrace of psychoanalysis to address a felt deficit in the 1960s. dislocated fragments. as in Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums. What for us appears as a philosophy of history was. but its achievement. 5. What role do you think psychoanalysis can play in helping us cope with the normative psychosis of our sociopolitical world? Or. 12. “Women: The Longest Revolution. 5. Marxist theory became increasingly absorbed by a regressive immediacy of working class politics. Planet of Slums forecasts a different world. I am critical of Reich. Bernstein argued that the very success of the social-democratic Left made Marx’s “revolutionary” predictions. All this was mission. shortly after the Haymarket massacre. sans teeth. 4. Marxism. continued from page 3
in the age of second childhood. 1982). i. the conjuncture of the optimism of the will and pessimism of the intellect to realize the difficulties. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. as one example. to drag it into the political arena. “Who is Responsible?: An interview with Fred Halliday. I don’t know what Adorno says in full. when the final economic crisis of capitalism develops. This was the context of historical optimism in which the German Social-Democratic Party was formed in 1875. Luxemburg was not against workers’ self-organization as such. is an earlier formation than sexual difference and fantasies of reproduction are parthenogenic—imaginatively boys and girls equally give birth. The demon that drove him from philosophy to the politics of revolutionary Marxism is what should call out to
Juliet Mitchell. Sexual difference takes up heterosexual reproduction. |P
1. it nevertheless comes into conflict with itself as a class. that both psychological (ego psychology) and sociological (Parsonian sociology) approaches to social totality had to remain aporetic. in which “a portion of the bourgeois ideologists. Her life’s work might be described as an ongoing attempt at “revolutionary cognition.e. 4. “Manifesto of the Communist Party. for although the bourgeoisie protects its own interests. trans. 481. ever-horrifying. Peter Hudis and Kevin B. The first from Lukács:
When the moment of transition to the ‘realm of freedom’ arrives this will become apparent just because the blind forces really will hurtle blindly towards the abyss. Considering the problems confronting Marxism today. and think. or resignation to ever-new. The function of the ego. Ibid. 3. The alienation of labor in capital. 1971 ). Why insist on some fantastical ideal when we can make progressive changes to improve working conditions in the here and now? But Luxemburg was not satisfied: such struggles are. 8. which viewed its own immediate struggles as taking priority over the “political” decisions made by the congresses. which is an abiding question for the Left.
. 151. Nettl. Maybe there will be a beyond. it is the past that weighs heavier than ever like a nightmare on our brains.” New Left Review. Or maybe he is just a dead dog. it is the return to stasis. the failure of which made possible the unprecedented mass slaughter in Nazi death camps—humanity’s selfimmolation. J. Luxemburg intervened in the so-called “revisionist controversy” with her pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution? in order to clarify the real historical stakes of this confusion. it is antiquity to our own. By the time of the German Revolution in 1918. Robert C. Rosa Luxemburg’s role in the revisionist dispute reinforced the saliency of Marxism within the Marxist movement.”7 It is this process of social disintegration and re-formation through class struggle that Marx and Engels suggested socialism would be achieved.. She struggled against the political and ideological tendency.’”9 The betrayal of revolutionary politics. Luxemburg identified a distinct need to transfer the masses of workers from their membership in the German Social Democracy to the revolution. she insisted. 58. 1971 ). Since the historical continuity is broken. Marcuse argues. the workers of the early period of bourgeois society do not recognize themselves as a class. but there will always be a women’s question. but inadequate to eliminate exploitation in the social system predicated on the compulsion of wage earners to sell their labor. eds. He failed to consider working-class politics integral to the reproduction of capitalist society. in the interest of the immense majority. (69)
us today. Although the modern SocialDemocratic parties were united within the Socialist International.”6 This movement is complemented by the bourgeoisie’s own disintegration as a class. In other words. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Salmagundi. “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View. Luxemburg was not merely an organizer—she gave conscious form to the previously latent crisis in bourgeois society.marxists.” interview by Danny Postel. 2. He was asking a different question of a different object. In place of revolutionary consciousness. so that all of the work that Marxists within psychoanalysis were able to do in the polyclinics of Berlin before they were stamped out or forced into emigration by the Nazis. Critique of Pure Reason. no baser defamation. “the class that holds the future in its hands. approaching it differently from within communism or within socialism trying to call itself communism. 112. When I took up Laing.” The proletariat. “What is Orthodox Marxism.” break away and join the proletariat. So we might still recognize in our times the wreckage of humanity’s highest hopes. Bernstein preferred to view certain social phenomena.” in The Marx-Engels Reader. or as you walked under an open window. MA: The MIT Press..” in History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. came up against the immediate interests of the trade union leadership. sans taste. but maybe there will simply be ways in which we can work with the death drive or diffuse the id. Duino Elegies in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. work would be recathected. According to The Communist Manifesto. not individual parts. And it stretches back to the old confusion between sexuality and reproduction. in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks. Do you think that the shift toward psychoanalysis by radical Marxists from the 1930s on.” 367. 71. Ibid. on the other hand. and thus. Freud himself was saying we can change society. for whom the proletariat does not enter the historical arena preformed. not to slave or feudal society is beyond me. in discussions about “Why War?” with Einstein. Juliet Mitchell. 1915. Allah would say we will all go to the Left. though it goes largely unnoticed. 21. Rosa Luxemburg. the Frankfurt School. One needs. supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education. since it isn’t only violence. Tucker (New York: W. 1998 ). Ibid. Hans Gerth and C. was not simply an insight into the ‘objective’ laws of capitalist development. is about as hazy and irrelevant to our contemporary concerns as Marxism. as there will be a race question. I/40 (November-December 1966): 11-37. 7. providing political leadership in the struggle to construct a new social world. forms of “reasonable” barbarism. politically. by taking advantage of the divisions of the bourgeoisie itself.” surrounded on all sides by global competition with other producers. 1978). |P Transcribed by Atiya Khan
1. She wrote. Reich. Luxemburg took aim at the notion that immediate gains that lead to forms of “social control. Georg Lukács. which was characterized by a growing narcissism that weakened the defenses of the ego against the super-ego. Georg Lukács.. but just as a quick last note. a violin yielded itself to your hearing. 6. 1979). Looking back to the moment of Luxemburg’s murder. sans everything. eds. Gender can be made into a category of analysis whereas women can be the object but cannot be a category. as with the Marxists of the Second International in the 1920s. “Letter to the New Left. MA: The MIT Press. How is it possible that this now discarded relic can help illuminate our present? The Ancients once used the stars in constellation to find the proper place of humanity in the cosmos. “The first illusion of the workers and soldiers who made the revolution was: the illusion of unity under the banner of so-called socialism. Wilhelm Reich was one of the first Marxists to critically appropriate Freudian categories to describe the social-historical condition of life under capital by perceptively identifying our fear of freedom. “Science as a Vocation” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology.W. But could you accomplish it?9
Without Lukács’s Pascalian wager on freedom. 1966). Class will feature in the whole dilemma of illegal migrants. I/5 (September-October 1960): 18-23. but rather ways of questioning the world that elucidate and advance historical tendencies now forgotten. I still think their work on the authoritarian personality is a marvelous use of psychoanalysis. 1971). 363. for Rosa Luxemburg. 100-101. on its class consciousness. |P
Lukács’s abyss. Juliet Mitchell. so too did the growth of class-conscious political organization that transformed the modern world. today there are new forms which it takes. It is a hypothesis. 1958 ). but we are all still of the Left. What I am saying is that psychoanalysis would be different in a revolutionary context than in the fascist context in Berlin in which Reich wrote. Luxemburg. Wright Mills. organized constituencies within the parties—notably the parliamentary delegations and the trade union leadership—could create friction and block implementation of socialist strategy. 84-5. which is why one can ask such questions as: Why is hysteria gendered? Why is mathematics gendered? Why is everything gendered? SS: There was a classic Marxist prejudice against Freudian psychoanalysis.